BOEM has just issued its programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) for comment--through April 7 at: www.boem.gov/Atlantic-G-G-PEIS.
In announcing the decision, BOEM stated, that its review of geological and geophysical surveys in the Mid- and South-Atlantic planning areas "...establishes multiple mitigation measures designed to minimize the impacts to marine life while setting a path forward for survey activities that will update nearly four-decade-old data on offshore energy resources in the region."
The first seismic surveys of the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) since 1988 could happen in the next two years if the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) finalizes the required environmental impact statement (EIS) in the next few months. The next step would be for BOEM to issue permits for the seismic surveys and other geological and geophysical activities in support of oil and gas exploration and development, renewable energy and marine minerals in the Mid- and South-Atlantic planning areas.
This is an important step for the future of Atlantic offshore oil and gas production. Unfortunately, the EIS, which was started in 2009, has been sufficiently delayed that seismic data will not be available in 2014, as BOEM starts development of its next five-year OCS leasing plan.
The next five-year plan can consider opening Atlantic offshore tracks to leasing without the seismic data, but seismic surveys and geologic assessments must be completed before there are any lease sales. However, the seismic surveys do not assure that the South-, Mid- or North-Atlantic OCS areas will be included in the 2017-2022 five-year OCS leasing plan or that leasing will occur.
The U.S. Atlantic OCS was under a variety of congressional or executive-branch moratoria between 1982 and 2008. The moratoria prohibited any geological or geophysical studies. (There also was a six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling instituted in response to the Macondo well blowout.)
For more information see the March 2014 AAPG Explorer Policy Watch column.